Traveling a bit farther inland and to the north, one reaches Tell Atchana, the ancient Alalakh.

The uppermost levels VI-I of the site, the ones of most concern to us, depend solely on Egyptian chronology, and the dates for imported Late Cypriote and Mycenaean pottery, Hittite New Empire and Mitannian material.1 The four latter sets of material owe their dates solely to Egyptian chronology, and maintain them by floating on mysterious Dark Ages, which are archaeologically empty, or, at best, very obscure. It is thus an easy matter to find some 500-600-year puzzles of the type met over and over again in this paper. For the sake of brevity we will treat here only two.

During part of the period of the 18th Egyptian Dynasty, Alalakh was ruled by King Niqmepa. His royal palace is thus assigned to the 15th-14th centuries B.C. Only a short distance north of Alalakh lies the site of Zinjirli with its 5th-century palace.

According to H. Frankfort there are no monuments, in fact, no works of art to fill the gap between ca. 1200 and 850 B.C. in this part of the ancient Levant. He was nevertheless struck by the resemblances of the 8th-century palace of Zinjirli to the 14th-century palace of Alalakh.2 How was the tradition of monumental architecture kept alive for 600 years, if the Niqmepa palace was covered over and invisible by the 14th century, and if there is absolutely no continuity in this or any of the other arts between the two periods?3

Many large fragments of sculpted stone lions were also unearthed at Alalakh. These were found re-used in the last phase of the “temple”,4 but presumably guarded the doors to this structure at an earlier date. According to the excavator,5 these lions have great “importance as monuments for the history of art. In the ‘Syro-Hittite’ period gateway lions of this sort are so regular a convention as to be almost the hall-mark of North Syrian art.” Such lions are normally assigned to the 9th-7th centuries B.C.,6 but because Egyptian chronology provides the absolute dates for Alalakh, “now for the first time we have a series of lion sculptures which cannot be later than the fourteenth century B.C.”

Should we view the Alalakh lions as “early forerunners of the whole series of Syro-Hittite lions”?7 Were they also the model for the guardian lions of Assyrian palaces, “anticipating [both sets] by five hundred years”?8 Could they have provided the inspiration for the 500-year-later sculptures?

If, by the 9th century B.C., the Alalakh lions were completely buried over by debris and long forgotten,9 and no similar lions exist to span the Dark Age in this region, “how can we explain why the system of flanking gates with large, guardian figures and stone reliefs in the ninth-century Assyrian palaces resembles so much that employed”10 here at Alalakh and other contemporary centers some 400-500 years earlier?


  1. L. Woolley, Alalakh (Oxford: 1955), p. 384-99.

  2. H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture. On p. 166 he speaks of the Dark Age. He saw similarities between Alalakh and Zincirli in constructional technique employed by the architect but invisible to onlookers (p. 145), and in ground plan (p. 167). He was, in fact, so struck by these similarities that he disbelieved a break in architectural continuity during the Dark Age (p. 163). Yet he himself has shown that, by the accepted scheme, the palace at Alalakh and other contemporary buildings were all destroyed long before Zincirli’s palace was built, and he fails to cite any intermediary structures to fill the gap between 1200 and 850 B.C. (pp. 163-66).

  3. W. F. Albright’s attempt (“Northeast-Mediterranean Dark Ages and the Early Iron Age Art of Syria” in The Aegean and the Near East, ed. S. Weinberg [Locust Valley, New York: 1956], pp. 144-65) to bridge the chronological gap fails. While many of his remarks are quite cogent, he disregards much evidence for dating some finds, and, as was his custom, chose dates to suit his own scheme.

  4. Frankfort (Art and Architecture, p. 162) believed that the building called a temple by Woolley may have been a palace.

  5. L. Woolley, A Forgotten Kingdom (London: 1959), pp. 132-33.

  6. Woolley (ibid., p. 132) pushes the lions back to the 10th century, but Frankfort (Art and Architecture, p. 166) shows that they only go back to the 9th century.

  7. Woolley, A Forgotten Kingdom, p. 133.

  8. S. Lloyd, The Art of the Ancient Near East (New York: 1961), p. 274. Lloyd is actually speaking of stone sphinxes from the Hittite capital of Boghaz Koy foreshadowing Assyrian bulls and lions, but the quotation fits the Alalakh lions as well.

  9. Woolley, A Forgotten Kingdom, p. 152.

  10. W. S. Smith, Interconnections in the Ancient Near East (London: 1965), p. 109. Smith actually refers to Hittite art, but the situation is the same for the Alalakh lions. See also Lloyd, Art of the Ancient Near East, pp. 193-94, and Woolley, A Forgotten Kingdom, p. 133. Smith, Lloyd, and Woolley all wanted to connect the “early” lions with the “late” ones, but they could not bridge the Dark Age pointed out by Frankfort (Art and Architecture, pp. 164-66), which should separate the two groups. It is true that the Alalakh lions are less sophisticated than other lions from this region, but that need not be a sign of a very early date. Frankfort (Art and Architecture, p. 254, n. 7) speaks of various degrees of success, or lack of it, in local carvings of the 9th century, citing the Alalakh sculptures as an earlier precedent.